SIOUX CITY | "I wrote a column about that."
During an interview on Wednesday in his home near Whispering Creek on Sioux City's eastern edge, Larry Myhre ended a dozen or so anecdotes with that statement: "I wrote a column about that."
After 44 years of columns, it would seem his writing has touched about every aspect of outdoor life in Siouxland. Last week, Myhre, 73, typed a "-30-" at the end of his column, a journalism shorthand symbol to let his editors know this is where it ends.
"Writing came easily for me," said Myhre. "I loved to learn and share what I learned with people. As long as I had the idea, I could write about it."
Writing. Larry Myrhe happened into the trade accidentally. The Worthing, South Dakota, native graduated from Canton High School in 1961 and headed to the University of South Dakota, where he planned to study business.
"I think it was during my sophomore year that I changed to journalism," he explained. "I came to the realization that I didn't want to sit at a desk all day in the business world. And my adviser asked me if I'd thought about journalism because I had scored highly on writing tests."
Myhre paused and set up a punch line: "I read newspapers all the time. I told my adviser that I thought you had to be really smart to be in journalism."
His adviser responded something like this, "No, not necessarily."
The start of a career
So, the one-time business student picked up a notebook and camera and began recording events all across the USD campus, working for the Volante student newspaper and other publications, like the yearbook.
Ironically, Myhre traded his spot on USD's rifle and pistol team for work in journalism. And the team, he said, was just coming off a second-place finish nationally, to a school in Alaska.
"I gave up my spot on that team to work," he recalled. "I couldn't devote the time I needed to practice shooting any longer if I wanted to be serious about journalism."
He soon went from a reporter on campus to sports editor to news editor for the Volante. He served as sports editor for the yearbook and president for an organization overseeing student publications.
He didn't fully step away from outdoor life, however.
"I was running a trap line at the time around Vermillion, along Clay Creek and the Vermillion River," he said. "I'd trap raccoon and muskrat, mostly, and sold furs to Strange Brothers in Sioux City to pay for school."
'He also picked up a job selling advertising and doing odds and ends, things like painting, at the Plain Talk newspaper serving Vermillion.
His interest in writing helped land Myhre a senior internship at the Sioux City Journal in the summer of 1965. When he graduated in January of 1966, he applied for a job at the Rapid City Journal in Rapid City, South Dakota. While waiting to hear back, Journal Editor Erwin Sias spoke to his intern about staying on in Sioux City. Sias could pay $103 per week. The Rapid City editor called to offer a job, but couldn't match that amount.
Myhre said he and wife Fran were expecting their first child at the time, so he took the better offer and began his career at the only place he'd end up working.
"I began as a reporter working nights in Sioux City," he said of his start in February 1966. "And in that first year I bought a camera and set up a darkroom at home. I did a sideline business in photography that really turned out to be a good business."
The entrepreneur comes out
Myhre would photograph service clubs in Sioux City, for example, and sell a black-and-white print to the club. He'd then take orders from the 40 to 50 members, each wanting their own print. He'd charge $2 or so for those prints and help supplement his newspaper earnings.
He also dabbled in senior portraits and wedding photos. He shot photos of customers at the Sioux City Stockyards in later years and did all the photography and processing for Truckers News.
"For two years, I shot pictures of the high school rodeo in Sioux City," he said. "I'd shoot pictures during the rodeo and make prints all night before going back to the rodeo the next day to sell them."
He laughed. "I learned pretty quickly that the kids and their parents didn't buy photos of the kids getting thrown," he said.
After working nights, Myhre was moved by Sias to a Journal bureau in South Sioux City. He covered that beat for six months before transitioning into the Journal's bureau at the Sioux City Stockyards.
"Basically, I had a closet and a typewriter at the Stockyards and I loved it there," he said. "I'd do the markets all the time, covered the strikes and began doing features of farmers."
In 1972, the Journal was sold to the Howard and Hagadone newspaper chains, which cut the Stockyards bureau and trimmed the newspaper staff. Though he was still relatively new to the trade, Myhre survived the job cuts thanks to his diversity, namely his ability to shoot photos.
"Sias had an opening in photography and he kept me on in Sioux City doing that for a year," he said.
In the spring of 1973, Marc Cox, the Journal's farm editor and its weekly outdoors column writer, was killed in a plane crash while covering and participating in the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener.
Sias tapped Myhre, who had a farming background, to replace Cox as editor of the newspaper's Farm Weekly publication. Shortly after that, Sias asked his farm editor to begin writing an outdoors column. That was 44 years ago.
"When Cal Olson was hired to replace Sias, who had retired, the Journal was doing something like 50 editorial special sections," Myhre said. "We cut those special sections back to something like 30 and I helped supervise the editorial content of those while editing the Farm Weekly. Cal also hired a reporter for me to help on all those sections."
The big story
Eventually, Myhre ascended to assistant managing editor, then managing editor, a position he held on July 19, 1989, when United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed at Sioux Gateway Airport. It would be the biggest story Myhre helped with during his long career.
"It's the biggest story ever in Sioux City," he said.
Myhre recalled stepping outside with Olson to catch a glimpse of the jumbo jet as it flew over Sioux City. Nothing, he said, seemed out of the ordinary.
"I went back inside and in minutes I heard the screaming over the police scanner," he recalled. "I ran outside the Journal and could see the smoke rising in the distance."
Myhre quickly called pilot Gene Martin at the airport in South Sioux City to arrange for Journal photographer Ed Porter to be taken into the air to take aerial photos of the scene.
"I was on the phone almost immediately with people from the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post," he said. "Harvey Sanford, one of our copy editors, called back to the office and told me we had walking wounded. I relayed that information to those papers."
Myhre, like most of the staff, worked until 3 a.m. on July 20, went home for a couple of hours and returned to the Journal. He recalled hosting reporters from across the country, some of whom spent a night or two sleeping in the Journal's conference room as motel rooms were booked.
One year later, Olson retired and Myhre became editor, a position he held for 18 years until his retirement in 2007.
Hand on the reel
Though he worked his way up the newsroom ladder, he still kept his hands on his reels, his guns, his camera and his computer keyboard, writing that column week after week after week.
He reported on excursions in Woodbury County farm ponds, catching bluegills with his three children. He published works from at least 14 states as well as Ontario and Manitoba, in Canada, and, well, Jerusalem.
"The Journal decided one year that we'd make something of a 'sister country' arrangement with Israel as Sioux City had a number of Jewish residents," he said. "We went on a tour to Israel and I fished with a man there in the Jordan River. I probably only fished for five minutes and didn't catch anything. I ended up writing about it."
For him, casting in the Jordan River was a learning experience. To this day, he remembers how the man, who didn't speak a word of English, communicated nonverbally. Myhre tried to work the line in a slightly different manner. The experience left a mark and helped him enlighten his readers.
"For me, it's all about learning something new, it always has been," he said.
Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of times readers have picked his brain about the best fishing spots or hunting methods. Myhre said he has spoken with guides out west who've had Sioux City Journal readers show up "because Larry Myhre wrote about it."
"When you write about fishing, you have to give it to them straight," he said.
And while the weekly deadline no longer taps him on the shoulder that doesn't mean he's giving up his rods, decoys and sights. After nearly 43 years of living in and raising three children in a smaller home on South Olive Street in Morningside, the Myhres last year bought a home east of Whispering Creek. Their new basement has an expanded working quarters for Fran, who sews, and Larry, who builds bamboo rods, among other things.
"Thanks to our hobbies, we outgrew our old home," Fran said.
Larry Myhre now spends hours upon hours flaming, splitting, straightening, flattening, beveling, heating, treating, sanding, gluing and resetting bamboo rods in an intricate process that takes up to 60 hours, if not longer. He made his first such rod in 1978, learning from the chapter in a fishing book.
Someday, Fran has said, her husband will have his book on this process.
Larry Myhre pulled a folder from his desk, one of at least a half-dozen work stations he's got in his spacious basement shop. "The book is all here, it's basically written," he said as he leafed through page after page of that detailed the process.
He often donates the rods to various trout fishing chapters, or custom-produces them for friends. He has taken several to national get-togethers for bamboo-rod enthusiasts. There are three such conventions he attends annually.
Some of his rods have fetched $750. Others, he said with a smile, could go for up to $2,000.
It's not the money, he assured.
"It's about learning," he said. "That's what it's always been about for me."